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The unexpected announcement that British tourists would be banned from entering France from midnight on Saturday has sent shockwaves through an already beleaguered tourism industry.

The news trickled through gradually yesterday until it was confirmed by the French government – until further notice, UK-France leisure travel would be prohibited, wrecking thousands of holidaymakers’ Christmas and New Year plans.

Exemptions were scant, including French citizens and their spouses, partners and children; students enrolled in France; and those travelling due to the death or terminal prognosis of a close family member (grandparent, parent, child or sibling)

Travel association ABTA’s chief executive, Mark Tanzer, called the move “a hammer blow to the winter travel industry, which is already under extreme pressure following the new Omicron restrictions.”

Nick Robinson, founder and CEO of ski instructor marketplace Maison Sport, said: “The partial closure of the borders with France is absolutely devastating for the skiing and other winter industries,” adding that “we can’t help but feel caught in the middle of a political storm”.

Meanhwile, TUI, easyJet, Jet2 and British Airways have been axing flights and holidays to France as a result of the ban.

Follow all the latest travel updates below:

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Seats selling out on final UK-France flights before travel ban

As options for reaching France before the 11pm GMT cut-off tonight dwindle, seats on the remaining flights are becoming extremely scarce and expensive.

The final British Airways departure from London Heathrow to Paris Charles de Gaulle, departing at 8.30pm, has only one seat remaining – in business class, at £671. The price-per-mile is over £3. BA has deployed its largest narrow-bodied Airbus, the A321, on the flight.

From Manchester to Paris at 6.55pm, easyJet has one seat remaining at £112.

Simon Calder17 December 2021 16:16

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Ahead of last Eurostar departure, train operator asks for “consistency” in travel rules

The last Eurostar train from London St Pancras to Paris before the French travel ban begins is due to leave at 8.01pm. It will arrive in the capital at 11.17pm, local time – 43 minutes before the prohibition on British visitors begins.

All tickets for afternoon and evening trains sold out quickly after the ban was announced on Thursday.

A spokesperson for Eurostar said: “Our immediate focus is looking after our customers, who are once again facing disruption during the Christmas travel period.

“We understand and fully support the need for governments to tighten travel restrictions in the interests of public health, to help contain the virus as new variants emerge, and we are advising our passengers accordingly.

“However, once the variant is established and being spread within communities, it is difficult to see what further purpose such restrictions serve. It is important that they are not in place any longer than is absolutely evidenced and necessary.

“Looking forward, we urge governments to commit now to a clear, consistent and sustainable approach to the response to these future challenges, which is more than the sudden switching on and off of travel at significant cost to people, businesses and the economy.”

Simon Calder17 December 2021 15:36

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Switzerland to relax testing protocols for travellers

The Swiss government has just announced easier entry for vaccinated and recovered travellers.

From Monday, 20 December, those who can show proof of full vaccination or recovery from Covid-19 will only need one negative test to enter Switzerland – a PCR test taken within the 72 hours before arrival or a rapid antigen test taken no more than 24 hours before entry.

The requirement to take a second test four to seven days after entering the country will be waived.

Helen Coffey17 December 2021 15:16

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Finland demands fully vaccinated British travellers show negative Covid test

Finland is tightening its entry requirements for British travellers over the Christmas period in response to the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

From 21 December, fully vaccinated arrivals from the UK will need to provide proof of a negative Covid test taken within the 48-hour period prior to entering the country.

At present, double-jabbed Brits – or those with proof of one vaccine dose and recovery from a Covid-19 infection – need not test before going to Finland and can visit the country for any reason, including tourism. Unvaccinated travellers can only enter the country if they can provide evidence of an essential or compassionate reason.

Helen Coffey17 December 2021 15:01

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Train services cancelled this weekend

On one of the busiest weekends of the year for rail travel, staff shortage caused by high levels of Covid cases and industrial action will lead to cancellations on some train operators’ services.

TransPennine Express is telling passengers: “Services across our network over the coming days may be subject to delays and short-notice cancellations due to a lack of available staff caused by industrial relations issues.

“We are doing all we can to keep you on the move and, as ever, our aim is to provide you with a stable and reliable service as we know you put your faith in TransPennine Express to get you where you need to be.

“We are sorry for any disruption this may cause to journeys in the coming days and ask you to allow additional time for travel and to check carefully – up to the last minute – for any changes to train times.”

Southern, which runs mainly between London and the South Coast, says: “On Saturday 18 December, a shortage of essential train crew will mean a reduced service across the Southern network.

“Trains are expected to be busier than usual as it’s the last weekend to squeeze in some Christmas shopping.

“Please check your journey before you travel, and allow extra time.”

Simon Calder17 December 2021 13:52

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Tui, easyJet and Jet2 cancel flights and holidays to France as travel ban hits

Tour operators and airlines are axing flights and holidays to France in response to the forthcoming ban on leisure travellers from the UK, which starts at midnight (French time) tonight.

The decision, announced by the French government on 16 December, has scuppered thousands of Brits’ plans to travel to France over the Christmas period, whether to see family and friends or take a city break or ski holiday.

Travel companies have reacted swiftly, with Tui, easyJet and Jet2 all cancelling services.

Helen Coffey17 December 2021 12:28

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What are the new France travel restrictions and when do they start?

The sudden prohibition on travel to France by British visitors has thrown many thousands of plans into disarray.

In response to the surging cases of the omicron variant in the UK, France has imposed tough new rules that take effect from 11pm GMT on Friday 17 December (midnight French time).

They apply regardless of vaccination status.

Only a “compelling reason” is permitted for travel from the UK to France. While French people will be able to travel, all holidays and business trips for British travellers – as well as most family visits –are off until further notice.

Click below for The Independent’s full explainer on all the latest rules and regulations:

Simon Calder17 December 2021 11:26

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French travel ban ‘hugely disappointing’, says ferry booking company

Niall Walsh, COO at Direct Ferries, the world’s largest ferry ticket booking site, called the French travel ban “unnecessary” and “hugely disappointing”, adding that the company has already received numerous calls from “distraught” customers.

He said: “The announcement today from the French government on restricting travellers from the UK is yet another blow to our business and the travel industry, just days before the peak ferry travel period commences. Our Dover to Calais route is one of our most popular at this time of year and this year has been no exception.

“We are currently dealing with calls from distraught UK customers who are desperate to either cancel or bring their bookings forward. It’s a disappointing and we believe unnecessary decision which will keep many people apart again this year for the holidays and will knock consumer confidence in travelling again after the recent months of growth in the sector.

“With the PCR testing currently in place for travel for British tourists and the willingness of travellers to take on these additional costs in order to be able to travel, it is hugely disappointing that this is not being seen as a viable option to keep travel going but minimising the spread of infection.”

Helen Coffey17 December 2021 10:30

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Fares soar in race to reach France by 11pm to beat travel ban

Air fares are soaring and train tickets are dwindling as travellers race to beat the French travel ban that begins at 11pm GMT on Friday.

British Airways flights this afternoon from London Heathrow to Nice are selling at £740 one-way, while Air France is charging £683 from Newcastle to Paris.

During the course of the morning, Eurostar, the cross-Channel train operator, has sold all its afternoon departures to Paris. It is telling passengers: “Please only come to London St Pancras station on Friday 17 December if you have a confirmed booking for that day and a negative test result.”

Simon Calder17 December 2021 09:24

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Eurostar sees surge in bookings to beat midnight deadline

Eurostar saw a surge in bookings by travellers desperate to reach France before the Saturday deadline, from when a leisure travel ban will be in place.

It sold out its standard class compartments on several of its London to Paris trains departing today.

Tickets for earlier trains cost £195 each, whereas fares for travel over the weekend once the new restrictions are in force are available from only £86.

Additional reporting by agencies

Helen Coffey17 December 2021 09:00

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